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Peppercorns Kitchen - NEW szechuan cuisine in Evanston

Peppercorns Kitchen - NEW szechuan cuisine in Evanston
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  • Peppercorns Kitchen - NEW szechuan cuisine in Evanston

    Post #1 - January 24th, 2016, 9:26 am
    Post #1 - January 24th, 2016, 9:26 am Post #1 - January 24th, 2016, 9:26 am
    I was driving through downtown Evanston yesterday and noticed a new Asian restaurant 'Peppercorns Kitchen' which is named after Szechuan peppercorns just opened on Davis street not too far from Joy Yee or Lao. When I got home I checked out there website and menu and found this is szechuan cusine which is rare outside of a few in Chicago (lao sze chuan, Chengdu Impression, Asian Bistro, etc). This restaurant is from a california chain of Asian restaurants called Boiling Point: http://www.bpgroupusa.com/Company.html.
    From there menu it looks like they also have a version of dry chili chicken (Chongqing Popcorn Chicken).

    Has anyone had the pleasure yet of trying this new Szechuan restaurant out and what are your thoughts?

    Menu:
    http://www.peppercornskitchen.com/#!commercial/cpax

    Peppercorns Kitchen
    620 Davis St. Evanston IL 60201
    Tel 847-563-8461

    YELP Reviews:
    http://www.yelp.com/biz/peppercorns-kitchen-evanston

    Instagram:
    https://www.instagram.com/peppercornskitchen/

    Facebook:
    https://www.facebook.com/peppercornevanston/
    Last edited by polster on January 28th, 2016, 3:11 pm, edited 4 times in total.
  • Post #2 - January 24th, 2016, 3:05 pm
    Post #2 - January 24th, 2016, 3:05 pm Post #2 - January 24th, 2016, 3:05 pm
    Menu looks promising. With Lao Szechuan steadily declining this may be the new hope.
  • Post #3 - January 24th, 2016, 11:19 pm
    Post #3 - January 24th, 2016, 11:19 pm Post #3 - January 24th, 2016, 11:19 pm
    Thanks for the heads up! We're going to try it for dinner this week. Will report back.
  • Post #4 - January 27th, 2016, 12:16 am
    Post #4 - January 27th, 2016, 12:16 am Post #4 - January 27th, 2016, 12:16 am
    nsxtasy wrote:Thanks for the heads up! We're going to try it for dinner this week. Will report back.

    Okay, here we go.

    Forgive the photo quality, as I left my usual camera in the car. Also forgive the menu choices, some of which I would not have normally chosen. Still, I think we got a good idea of what the food is like, and hopefully the narrative and photos will convey that. If you don't want to read the entire description, the Cliff's Notes version is, I thought it was very good overall, with plenty of dishes to love and enjoy, as well as a few that I'll be avoiding. I look forward to returning and trying other dishes. This is a solid addition to Evanston, which IMHO needed a really good Szechuan restaurant.

    Peppercorns Kitchen is on Davis Street in downtown Evanston, next door to the American Mattress store.
    Image

    We arrived at 6 pm, and as you can see, at that hour most of the tables were empty. By 6:30, almost all the tables were taken, and it didn't start emptying until around 7:30. We didn't have a reservation, and I didn't ask if they take reservations.
    Image

    A server came, and we ordered. When we ordered the first couple of dishes by their names, the server asked us the dish number, so from that point on, we ordered by number. (I'm guessing the restaurant is so new that the servers don't know the menu by heart, the way they will after working there a while.) Spicy dishes are shown on the menu with one, two, or three red dots designating levels of hotness. We ordered dishes as is, without specifying anything special regarding ingredients, spiciness, etc. There is no alcohol on the menu, but I think we spotted another table who was doing BYO. Dishes arrived at the table one at a time, which was fine with us.

    The first two dishes were appetizers. The first was Crab Rangoon (002). This is a dish I rarely order and I'm not even sure how it's supposed to turn out. The fried wonton wrapper was pleasantly crunchy, and the cream cheese filling was smooth and tasty. I didn't notice any crab. I guess it was okay.
    Image

    The next dish was Pot Stickers (011). The filling and dipping sauce were decent, but the outer wrapper was overly chewy and doughy. I love really good pot stickers. These weren't awful, but they weren't great either.
    Image

    We ordered three entrees and two vegetable dishes. The first of these to arrive was the Walnut Shrimp (062), which is a mild dish (no red dots) and was in the Chef's Special section of the menu. This was the best dish of the entire meal, with tender, moist shrimp in a mayonnaise sauce with candied walnuts. It's similar (or identical) to the dish at Lao Sze Chuan called Mayonnaise Shrimp. The Peppercorns version is as good or better. A standout, and one we will definitely order again.
    Image

    Next up was Sauteed String Beans (166), a one-dot level of hotness. This was an excellent rendition of this dish. And the spice level was rather tame, exactly what I would expect from one dot. (I'm guessing you can ask them to adjust the spice level on this and other dishes if you want more or less heat than the standard.)
    Image

    This was followed by the Chongqing Popcorn Chicken (068). Polster's guess was correct; this dish is the same as the dry chili chicken dish popular at many other Szechuan restaurants. The three-dot level of hotness shown on the menu was accurate - great for those who like their food REALLY spicy, but maybe too much for a lot of folks. I thought this version was very good, and better than at Lao Sze Chuan, where it is often excessively oily. This dish is a great choice for those who enjoy spicy food.
    Image

    The next dish was Fried Rice with vegetables (183). I thought this was really bland, but I think the restaurant messed this dish up. Before they brought this dish and the next, they asked if we wanted anything else. Apparently they had forgotten two of the dishes we ordered. Then they brought us a dish of fried rice with beef, which was not what we ordered. The fried rice with vegetables looked like white rice with vegetables in it, not like the more typical looking fried rice in the fried rice with beef that they brought in error. I think they did a quick hack job on this dish so they could bring it out quickly.
    Image

    Our final savory dish was Kung Pao Shrimp (098), with its one dot of hotness, again accurately described. It was a very good version, although this too is not a dish I customarily order.
    Image

    Desserts seemed a bit pricy (four of the five desserts were $6.95-8.95) and then we found out why. We ordered one of the Tapioca with Mango & Coconut Sauce (197, $6.95). I was expecting a small bowl of this dessert. What arrived at the table was tureen-sized, with at least a quart of dessert. It was mostly a rather thin liquid with small pearls of tapioca and small bits of fruit in it. It reminded me of bubble tea, but with small pearls of tapioca rather than the large ones you normally see in that beverage. I thought this was terrific.
    Image

    Service was friendly and helpful, but when they were slammed (6:30-7:30, as mentioned above) it took a little while until the server checked back with us so we could order dessert and then get the check. I chalk that up to the fact that they're brand new and are still figuring out how to staff to handle what is clearly a lot of business at the peak dinner hour on a weekday, so for right now I'd cut them slack on that.

    All in all, I was very pleased with our dinner at Peppercorns Kitchen. I think it is highly likely to become part of our regular rotation, our go-to place for Chinese. Welcome to Evanston!
    Last edited by nsxtasy on January 27th, 2016, 11:10 am, edited 2 times in total.
  • Post #5 - January 27th, 2016, 9:01 am
    Post #5 - January 27th, 2016, 9:01 am Post #5 - January 27th, 2016, 9:01 am
    Thanks nsxtasy for your full review with pictures included. How would you compare overall the food to the other Szechuan restaurants like Chengdu Impression, Yan Bang Cai, Asian Bistro, other LAO restaurants, etc?

    Also it looks like you ordered a lot of items that are offered in most Chinese restaurants here in Chicago (Crab Rangoon, Pot Stickers, Walnut Shrimp, Fried Rice, Kung Pao). I would suggest trying some items that you haven't tried before that might be unique to only Szechuan cuisine in the future to expand your palate and to try something new. :)

    Thanks again for your review. I hope to try this restaurant in the coming weeks.

    /polster
  • Post #6 - January 27th, 2016, 10:39 am
    Post #6 - January 27th, 2016, 10:39 am Post #6 - January 27th, 2016, 10:39 am
    polster wrote:How would you compare overall the food to the other Szechuan restaurants like Chengdu Impression, Yan Bang Cai, Asian Bistro, other LAO restaurants, etc?

    We ate at Chengdu Impression a month ago and liked it a lot. I have a very similar impression there as at Peppercorns. They are both capable of turning out some really delicious food. But we didn't order well, i.e. we tried some dishes that we didn't like, that we would avoid in the future. At Chengdu, we ordered several dishes that were too similar to each other, and next time will order more variety of preparations and flavor profiles. At Peppercorns, we were accompanied by a non-meat-eating family member who ordered bland, American-ized dishes that skewed the meal that way. Based on only one visit to each, I think they are both worth exploring further. We're more likely to do so at Peppercorns than Chengdu due to geographical convenience to us. (Before we knew about Peppercorns, we were expecting Chengdu to be our go-to place for Chinese.) We've also enjoyed several visits to 8000 Miles in Roselle, owned by Ben Li of the former Double Li in Chinatown. It too is a place where you can find some truly excellent Szechuan fare. All three of these are very good indeed, and I would have a tough time deciding which of these is the best, especially with only one visit (with poor choices) at two of the three.

    We have had meals at three locations of Lao Sze Chuan, as well as one of the other Tony Hu restaurants, and we liked both Peppercorns and Chengdu better. We had been disappointed at the former, due to excessive oil in many of the dishes, and single-note flavoring (hot pepper overwhelming the other ingredients).

    polster wrote:Also it looks like you ordered a lot of items that are offered in most Chinese restaurants here in Chicago (Crab Rangoon, Pot Stickers, Walnut Shrimp, Fried Rice, Kung Pao). I would suggest trying some items that you haven't tried before that might be unique to only Szechuan cuisine in the future to expand your palate and to try something new. :)

    As noted above, we were accompanied by a family member who was responsible for ordering most of those dishes, which I would not have ordered. (I had to bite my tongue when I was thinking, "Crab Rangoon? Seriously?" :) ) That being said, I've been with groups who ordered some of the more exotic dishes, and I have not been fond of some of them, with overly chewy maw and tendons and such. I enjoy some more unusual meat items, such as organ meats, but some of those I've had at Chinese restaurants, not so much.

    Another factor in our ordering is that we were limiting the number of meat dishes, due to that family member. It's worth noting that much of the Peppercorns menu, including almost all of the Chef's Special section, is meat-centric. There are vegetarian and seafood dishes elsewhere on the menu, but they are of the less adventurous type.

    And the Walnut Shrimp was exceptional, and should not be dissed. :)
  • Post #7 - January 27th, 2016, 11:25 am
    Post #7 - January 27th, 2016, 11:25 am Post #7 - January 27th, 2016, 11:25 am
    Thanks nsxtasy for your concise reply and clarification on why certain items were ordered in your initial visit to Peppercorns Kitchen.

    Cheers and enjoy your future outings at Peppercorns Kitchen.

    /polster
  • Post #8 - March 16th, 2016, 9:01 pm
    Post #8 - March 16th, 2016, 9:01 pm Post #8 - March 16th, 2016, 9:01 pm
    The Evanston Lunch Group™ had a delicious, successful meal this afternoon at Peppercorns Kitchen. Here are a few pix:

    Image
    The Pork Lip with Chili Pepper appetizer was one of the standout dishes of the afternoon. Served chilled, the lips had a nice, subtle chew to them, with just a hint of spiciness.

    Image
    Yam Potato with Blueberry Sauce was unusual - cool bland yam (we thought it was a true yam, not the type of sweet potato that's occasionally misidentified as a yam) inexplicably married with blueberry jam. It was probably the least favorite dish of the afternoon.

    Image
    Our final cold appetizer was Spicy Diced Rabbit. As many noted, the bones included in the rabbit probably made it a more traditional dish, as would be served in China. While it wasn't especially easy to eat, the bits of rabbit you could coax off the bones were quite flavorful.

    Image
    Orange Beef was maybe half a step above what you'd get at a typical Amer-Chinese hole in the wall.

    Image
    We tried two "dry pot" dishes. The first, Dry Pot Cage Free Chicken, was another slightly bony dish (not that that's a bad thing). It was a bit spicy, but the vegetables rounded it out well.

    Image
    Our other chicken dish, Chongqing Popcorn Chicken, was boneless, with small pieces of breaded and fried chicken strewn among many pieces of hot red peppers. Spicy and delicious.

    Image
    On the other hand, Walnut Shrimp was mild, but highlighted the lightly floured and fried shrimp well.

    Image
    I'm not a big fan of tofu, but the Mapo Tofu with Ground Pork did a nice job of soaking up the sauce for some definite flavor.

    Image
    Our other dry pot dish, Dry Pot Tea Tree Mushroom, was among my favorites. The mushrooms (which I assume were dried and reconstituted) had just the tiniest bit of spiciness, balanced by a good mix of vegetables.

    Image
    A very simple, but well-received dish was Pea Shoot with Garlic. I always like to eat something green.

    Service was good, it's a nice, fairly large space, and there were probably more people with Asian ancestry than those of us whose ancestors came from other parts of the world. That's a good thing for an Asian restaurant.

    Peppercorns Kitchen has become my favorite Asian restaurant in Evanston - and there's plenty of competition here.
  • Post #9 - March 17th, 2016, 9:25 am
    Post #9 - March 17th, 2016, 9:25 am Post #9 - March 17th, 2016, 9:25 am
    I agree with Tom's assessment (although at least on my computer, I can't see any of the photos). The Pork Lip with Chili Pepper was excellent--slightly spicy, nicely chewy, with cilantro and, I think, sesame oil. I would order this again in a heartbeat. The Dry Pot Tea Tree Mushroom was also delicious with a wonderful smoky flavor. The dry pots are small woks served over a frame with sterno or something like it, so they continue to cook a bit at the table. I am a fan of Mapo Tofu and thought Peppercorns' version was first-rate--not amazingly hot, but with that addictive Szechuan pepper burn. I thought Peppercorns' versions of Mapo Tofu and the Walnut Shrimp were better than my last orders of these at LSC in Skokie. I am looking forward to trying more of Peppercorns' large menu, which includes some Korean dishes as well.
  • Post #10 - March 17th, 2016, 11:12 am
    Post #10 - March 17th, 2016, 11:12 am Post #10 - March 17th, 2016, 11:12 am
    My favorite dishes were the popcorn chicken, the walnut shrimp, and the orange beef. The orange beef, which I had not had here before, was particularly tender, with a lovely crispiness on the outside; see below regarding spice level. I don't like tofu or rabbit. I tried the pork lips, but they didn't wow me. The dry pot chicken had the same issue as the fried short ribs I had on my previous visit - the meat was diced, with small pieces on the bone - lots of bone, not much meat.

    Ordering note: As mentioned above, all spicy dishes are shown on the menu with one, two, or three dots showing the level of spice (a little, medium, and VERY hot). The orange beef is shown with one dot, but it was not at all spicy, not even a little. I would assume that you can order items and request that the spice level be adjusted higher or lower than what is shown on the menu. In the case of orange beef, if you like it at least a little spicy, I suggest doing so.
  • Post #11 - March 17th, 2016, 1:03 pm
    Post #11 - March 17th, 2016, 1:03 pm Post #11 - March 17th, 2016, 1:03 pm
    An enjoyable gathering as always. The company is as much fun as the food.

    My reaction to Peppercorns was good but not great. First, I was expecting more heat. It was ample but nothing was overwhelmingly fiery. Don't know if it was tamed for the tastes of some suburbanites, but it makes this a good place to take your more timid friends provided they don't insist on crab rangoon!

    I enjoyed most of the dishes but there was no one standout, though I certainly liked the MaPo tofu which is unusual for me as I'm not a tofu fan. However, all the flavors in the dish combined well.

    I also quite liked the pork lip which had a nice chew. The walnut shrimp was very mild, but the shrimp were good-sized and tender. Another mild dish, the pea shoot with garlic worked very well perhaps because of the contrast with the hotter dishes. I think it could be ordered without garlic, but felt it was definitely better with garlic.

    The yam with blueberry was an appetizer, but it was sweet and I think it would work as a dessert after having spicy dishes.

    The popcorn chicken didn't do much for me, the crunchy chicken bits didn't seem to have much flavor. The dry pot chicken was tastier. I won't repeat what others have already said about the remaining dishes which were all good.
    Where there’s smoke, there may be salmon.
  • Post #12 - March 17th, 2016, 1:16 pm
    Post #12 - March 17th, 2016, 1:16 pm Post #12 - March 17th, 2016, 1:16 pm
    George R wrote:I was expecting more heat. It was ample but nothing was overwhelmingly fiery.

    I thought the popcorn chicken was very spicy. Note, this was the only "three dot" dish we ordered. And I'm not sure whether any of the dishes we ordered were designated with two dots.

    As usual with our large groups, we tend to order a variety of dishes, with a variety of main ingredients and a variety of spice levels.
  • Post #13 - May 24th, 2016, 1:32 pm
    Post #13 - May 24th, 2016, 1:32 pm Post #13 - May 24th, 2016, 1:32 pm
    I want to put a good word in for Peppercorns Kitchen. We have been choosing it lately over Lao Szechuan in Evanston when we want spicy Chinese take-out. They have a large menu, so not everything is equally wonderful, and we have barely tried a small portion of the choices. The core of the menu is Szechuan, but they also do some Northern (Xinjiang) foods, as well as Chinese-American standbys such as potstickers, wonton soup, kung pao preparations, and the like.

    Some of our recommendations:
    --The pork lip with chili pepper discussed above is still a winner in my book--chewy, Szechuan peppercorn spicy, bright with cilantro.
    --Xinjiang style sauteed lamb is thinly sliced, boneless lamb coated with cumin, pepper of some sort, and other spices, along with onion. There is also a cumin lamb dish on the menu that we need to compare to this one, but the Xinjiang style was delicious.
    --PK does a nice job with basic vegetable preparations; we have enjoyed pea shoots, green beans (a bit wrinkly but tasty), and bok choy with shiitakes.
    --Tea-smoked duck (in the Chef's Specials section) comes as small hacked pieces and was moist and delicately smoky, if that's not a contradiction in terms.
    --Wonton soup, believe it or not. To us, a Chinese meal almost always includes soup. PK's hot and sour soup is a disappointment. While it brings the sour and hot, it is somehow bland and contains no meat. The wonton soup has lots of big meat-stuffed wontons, noodles, carrot strips, and woodear mushrooms. Add a little chili oil for heat if you like (I do).
  • Post #14 - May 25th, 2016, 11:07 am
    Post #14 - May 25th, 2016, 11:07 am Post #14 - May 25th, 2016, 11:07 am
    We are always looking to expand our selection of places to order in for our home "movie nights." Their menu and the reviews are enticing but I cannot find any indication whether they deliver. Does anyone happen to know the answer? (Or do I need to call and ask?) Thanks.


    Addendum: after extensive searching, it seems (I'm still not completely certain) that the restaurant itself does not offer delivery. Their food does, however, seem to be available through grubhub.
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #15 - May 25th, 2016, 12:07 pm
    Post #15 - May 25th, 2016, 12:07 pm Post #15 - May 25th, 2016, 12:07 pm
    Gypsy Boy wrote:We are always looking to expand our selection of places to order in for our home "movie nights." Their menu and the reviews are enticing but I cannot find any indication whether they deliver. Does anyone happen to know the answer? (Or do I need to call and ask?) Thanks.


    Addendum: after extensive searching, it seems (I'm still not completely certain) that the restaurant itself does not offer delivery. Their food does, however, seem to be available through grubhub.


    Grubhub IS the restaurant's delivery--that's just a consolidator site to access places that deliver and for which the restaurants pay dearly for the privilege. If a place delivers via Grubhub, they almost always take phone orders and appreciate those who call them directly since they keep all of the money from the order.
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #16 - May 25th, 2016, 4:14 pm
    Post #16 - May 25th, 2016, 4:14 pm Post #16 - May 25th, 2016, 4:14 pm
    It would be very hard to order carryout or get there for pickup or dine in.

    The phone number on the home page is 450-312-7624 which is in Terrebonne Quebec. The address given has a zip code of 60670- The First National Bank building.

    In the contact page we discover that 60670 is not the zip code, but the place is still in Chicago

    620 Davis Street, Chicago, IL, 60201
  • Post #17 - May 25th, 2016, 6:05 pm
    Post #17 - May 25th, 2016, 6:05 pm Post #17 - May 25th, 2016, 6:05 pm
    :lol:

    Thanks, both. Guess we'll just call the restaurant. It may take a while for delivery from Quebec, I'm guessing.
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #18 - May 25th, 2016, 6:17 pm
    Post #18 - May 25th, 2016, 6:17 pm Post #18 - May 25th, 2016, 6:17 pm
    They seem to have mastered the ancient Chinese secret of controlling time and space, so I wouldn't worry about it.
  • Post #19 - October 31st, 2017, 8:19 am
    Post #19 - October 31st, 2017, 8:19 am Post #19 - October 31st, 2017, 8:19 am
    I was delighted with a recent meal at Peppercorns. Roasted oolong milk tea with pearl was actually brewed and not reconstituted. Twice-cooked (twice-fried) pork had high quality preserved black beans, sliced large garlic, and tender leeks. Hot & sour soup was dark and rich with white pepper and bamboo strips at the ideal level of tang (though no meet as noted above). Every table around us was full, and with giant varied containers of hot pots, dry and with soup. It also smelled glorious - reasonably ventilated but toasted spices wafting in on plates from the kitchen. I'm a particular fan of Chinese lunch specials, and I note that their $8-and-under offering M-F includes some non-Westernized plates (RIP Spring World).
  • Post #20 - February 7th, 2018, 11:06 am
    Post #20 - February 7th, 2018, 11:06 am Post #20 - February 7th, 2018, 11:06 am
    I had a craving for Shui zhu niu rou so I tried it last night.
    The waitress made sure I knew it was spicy, I asked for 4 chili level and got a decently warming bowl.

    The pork belly in fresh garlic was very good; a rustic presentation with rough cut scallion and cilantro gave it a herb forward taste and plenty of Sichuan peppercorns but dialed back on the heat was a good counterpoint to the beef.
  • Post #21 - June 22nd, 2018, 10:18 am
    Post #21 - June 22nd, 2018, 10:18 am Post #21 - June 22nd, 2018, 10:18 am
    Peppercorns Kitchen knocked it out of the MaLa park. Spicy, flavorful, packed with flavor, I'll be back soon. Nice to add them to my Evanston short list with GNR's Evanston Chicken Shack & Edzo's

    PCK2.jpg #25 House Special Chicken

    PCK4.jpg #68 Chongging Popcorn Chicken

    PCK8.jpg #15 Ox tendon & Maw in Szechuan Sauce

    PCK3.jpg Dry Pot Lamb Spine. On specials board

    PCK7.jpg #16 Tree Ear Mushroom Salad

    PCK5.jpg #177 Bok Choy w/Garlic


    Peppercorns Kitchen, Count me a Fan!
    Sauce on the side, always, implied, axiomatic..........never a doubt, BBQ sauce without.

    Low & Slow
  • Post #22 - June 23rd, 2018, 3:41 pm
    Post #22 - June 23rd, 2018, 3:41 pm Post #22 - June 23rd, 2018, 3:41 pm
    House spec chix reminds me of the late great shot themselves in the foot...
    "In pursuit of joys untasted"
    from Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata
  • Post #23 - June 24th, 2018, 11:07 am
    Post #23 - June 24th, 2018, 11:07 am Post #23 - June 24th, 2018, 11:07 am
    Terrific version of one of my favorite dishes, Mapo tofu. Wonton in chili sauce were solid, reminiscent of Bite of Szechuan's (RIP) version.

    PCK10.jpg Mapo Tofu with ground pork. I added a bit more Szechuan peppercorns

    PCK9.jpg Mapo Tofu

    PCK11.jpg Wonton in chili sauce


    Peppercorns Kitchen, Count me a Fan!
    Sauce on the side, always, implied, axiomatic..........never a doubt, BBQ sauce without.

    Low & Slow

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